Last update: 03.22.2019
Its free version is limited to 500 MB a month, while the paid version leaves a lot of room for improvement. Read our full TunnelBear review below to learn more.
Founded in 2011, TunnelBear Inc. was acquired by the cybersecurity giant McAfee in 2018, which means that the Canada-based VPN provider now also falls under the privacy-challenged US jurisdiction.
The good thing is that John McAfee himself is not a fan of the NSA. The bad thing is that he’s also not a big fan of his own products, naming McAfee antivirus software “the worst products in a f**king planet.”
TunnelBear was also the first VPN company to initiate an independent self-audit that’s been done two years in a row now.
Security and privacy: is TunnelBear safe to use?
TunnelBear is safe to use, but one would expect a bit more from its premium version. This VPN has the following security features:
- AES-256 encryption
- OpenVPN, IPSec/IKEv2, and Obfuscation (GhostBear) protocols
- Kill switch (VigilantBear)
- Anonymous payments (Bitcoin)
- DNS and IPv6 leak protection
- No activity logs
- Independent audits
While all the features sound great, we must note that TunnelBear Inc. is located in Canada, a 5 Eyes alliance member. What is more, the company was bought by McAfee in 2018 which is under the US jurisdiction. McAfee’s owner is not a big fan of NSA, but both countries are known for tough anti-piracy laws and make TunnelBear subject to data retention policies.
TunnelBear used to own all their servers, but this is no longer advertised on their website. This means that a service cannot have 100% control over their user’s data being transferred or even stored.
There’s also the growing problem of its usage of Gmail to communicate with users. As you’re probably aware, Gmail shares your private email access with third-party app developers. To know more about how TunnelBear and other VPNs may be affected by this Gmail privacy issue, please read our full report.
If you still wonder whether TunnelBear is safe enough for you to use, rest assured that it’s absolutely safe – as long as you have nothing to hide. Both the free and the paid versions are equipped with great security and privacy features. On second thought, you would expect a bit more from a paid VPN service.
Does TunnelBear keep logs?
TunnelBear claims to have a “fierce no-logging policy,” yet it collects and stores some logs about your authentication time, OS version, VPN app version, monthly bandwidth usage, etc. Luckily, it doesn’t include activity inside the network.
We are not saying that all logging is evil since certain operational processes can only be maintained by having basic data about the users. But TunnelBear is clearly logging more than the needed minimum.
As per TunnelBear’s policies, your personal data will be provided to authorities “in the event TunnelBear is served with a valid subpoena, warrant or other legal document.” Secondly, the VPN says that they “may send data to third-party service providers” for “understanding website analytics” – which could mean almost anything.
When it comes to torrenting policies, we don’t recommend using TunnelBear because Canada’s laws require all ISPs and VPNs to log user identifiable info, and its website has zero information about P2P. So either TunnelBear is lying to the government about keeping such logs, or it’s lying to you about not keeping them.
Is TunnelBear leak-proof?
TunnelBear uses its own DNS servers, giving you protection against DNS leaks. It means that your ISP has no idea of what sites you visit.
During our test, no DNS or WebRTC (IPv6) leaks were found. If you want to make sure you’re not susceptible to the latter, you can turn WebRTC off on your browser. Alternatively, you can disable IPv6 for the whole connection.
TunnelBear’s kill switch named VigilantBear is effective against leaking sensitive information in case the VPN connection drops. Unfortunately, it’s not available on the iOS devices yet.
To learn more about TunnelBear’s safety features, check our article “Is TunnelBear safe?”
Speed: lightning fast or just bearable?
Our test for this TunnelBear review has found that the download speeds are very good for nearby locations and very bad for the distant ones.
The obfuscation protocol GhostBear is turned on by default, and it has a profound effect on your speed, so we’d recommend turning it off, just like we did for this test from Europe, with the original download speed of 300 Mbps.
- Download: 203 Mbps
- Upload: 86 Mbps
- Dropoff: 32%
New Jersey, United States
- Download: 28 Mbps
- Upload: 35 Mbps
- Dropoff: 91%
- Download: 1 Mbps
- Upload: 4 Mbps
- Dropoff: 99%
- Download: 2 Mbps
- Upload: 2 Mbps
- Dropoff: 99%
As we can see, Tunnelbear speeds are absolutely horrible – except for the surprisingly fast downloads on the same continent.
TunnelBear operates 1,000+ servers in 20+ countries. The true number of servers and IP addresses is not known. This doesn’t sound good when compared to the competitors that offer twice or thrice as much.
TunnelBear’s number would look better if they owned all of their servers. Unfortunately, that’s no longer the case. We believe this service uses Virtual Private Servers instead of the hardware ones to cover some locations, such as Japan or Australia. That might be the case why a connection to them was so slow.
The server coverage is below-average: South America has only Brazil, Africa and the Middle East have zero, and Asia has just 3 countries.
Ease of use and multi-platform support
You can download TunnelBear for all major platforms:
- iOS (no VigilantBear kill switch)
There are also browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera. Unfortunately, TunnelBear offers no support for routers, game consoles, or TV devices, making it strictly personal computer+phone service, unless you’re OK with using the device-agnostic browser extensions.
Free TunnelBear version gives one, while the Premium allows five simultaneous connections.
How to download and install TunnelBear
You can easily download the TunnelBear client or browser extension from its website by clicking one of the green buttons.
Only Android and iOS versions require you to login to Google Play Store or App Store respectively.
Installing any app version consists of clicking Next mostly and is too easy to be discussed further. Browser extensions are two clicks away from being added.
After successful installation, you will need to create an account which will require verification from your email. We recommend starting from the Free version to see if you like it because TunnelBear doesn’t offer a money-back guarantee.
How to use TunnelBear
TunnelBear is very easy and fun to use.
After launching the service, you will get a 3-step tutorial and then end up on the home screen with a map showing your location and a default server option. On the list of 22 countries, there’s also an Auto connect mode, which selects the fastest server (the default option on Windows).
To change your server location, choose from a drop-down list or click on a country on the map.
To access the Settings menu, click the Gear icon on the top-left.
On the General tab, you can set TunnelBear to launch and connect automatically on system startup, TCP overrides on or off, and general notifications.
The Security tab is where you can turn VigilantBear or GhostBear on or off.
On the Trusted Networks tab, you can add a list of trusted networks and choose to switch on TunnelBear whenever you’re not connecting to any of those.
The Account tab is basically an interface to manage your account, submit a support ticket, or log out.
As you can see now, anyone can easily use this VPN application even if they’re beginner computer users. Check this article of ours to learn more about using TunnelBear.
Does it work with Netflix?
Free users probably know that 500 MB per month won’t get you too far if you want to use the free version of TunnelBear for Netflix. But we must warn that the Paid version won’t get you much further either.
While it was accessible some months ago, US Netflix no longer works, just like any other library in the world. Even if it did, users from distant locations would probably lack connection speed to stream smoothly in HD.
Does it work with Kodi?
TunnelBear is friendly for Kodi. It offers great encryption, protects your IP, and is easy to install and use. On the downside, speeds might be of an issue, which is why you should test with the Free version first.
And those who want to use Kodi to see what they shouldn’t see should consider a VPN in a friendlier jurisdiction than Canada.
Read here for how to use TunnelBear with Kodi.
P2P and torrenting
Well, this will probably cause some unbearable pain, but you shouldn’t use TunnelBear for torrenting. Simply put: this VPN doesn’t support P2P file sharing (although it might work for some) and offers no explanation on their decision.
We suggest you to look for a more torrent-friendly VPN if you don’t see your future without P2P action.
The whole TunnelBear and torrenting thing is analyzed in our dedicated article.
TunnelBear has no live chat support. Hopefully, this VPN will reconsider and provide their 21 million users with proper and fast live support. In the meantime, the Help page on its website gives you three options:
- Search the help database
- Browse categories and featured articles
- Log in and submit a ticket
The response to your support ticket usually takes from few to 24 hours. The TunnelBear support must have gone through some improvements because you can still find older comments with users complaining about slow and useless support.
It’s a big bonus that you can try and use TunnelBear for free. This service allows you 500MB free monthly traffic, which can be extended with an extra 1 GB by tweeting about the VPN on Twitter.
We have a separate article on the free version of TunnelBear detailing all its pros and cons.
For general users and travelers, even these could be acceptable conditions if the only aim is to access geo-restricted web content or stream some smaller videos. But the more serious VPN fans like political activists, hackers, torrent users need a higher level of security, which is usually not provided by free VPNs.
These are the pricing plans TunnelBear offers:
- 1-month plan: $9.99
- 1-year plan: $4.99/month
- Team: $5.75/month annually for one person
You can pay with credit card or Bitcoin. There used to be a PayPal option, and we hope it will return someday.
One negative touch about the pricing is that this VPN doesn’t have a money-back guarantee. Nevertheless, you can always try it for free and see if you get what you expect from this VPN service. But to be honest, while the prices don’t look high, you can get better VPNs for the same money.
TunnelBear is a good but not great option for casual users. It is fairly safe and keeps your privacy intact as long as you simply use it for basic browsing practices to access censored or geo-blocked content or to stream media, even from China.
However, if you are more worried about your online security and connection speed, you may want to pay a tiny bit more for a premium VPN.
The free version provides you with the same level of security and privacy, although you’re limited by bandwidth, which almost makes no sense to use it at all unless for a trial.